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Dragon*Con 2010

by Brian Dunning, Sep 09 2010

I just got back from Dragon*Con 2010 in Atlanta, had an amazing time, and came straight here to share my thoughts with you.

It is an interesting conference. Although 99% of it is a celebration of geek culture, fantasy, sci-fi, gaming, entertainment, comics, art, and just about anything else you can think of, its Skeptic Track (under the capable guidance of Skepticality's Derek Colanduno) has grown to be one of the world's largest critical thinking gatherings. Its differentiating factor is that outside the door of the 350-seat Skeptic Track room pass 70,000 other conference attendees, and it's thus uniquely positioned for outreach. And outreach it did: Talks by James Randi and Adam Savage draw such large audiences that they are out in the main halls, where hundreds of non-skeptics hear them. Both discussed The Amazing Meeting and skepticism by name. Both probably piqued a lot of interest, if not converts, and probably put curious butts in the seats of the Skeptic Track room. Continue reading…

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How I Did Four Things at Once Without Superpositioning

by Brian Dunning, Jul 01 2010

I’m a reasonably busy dude. In addition to working full time in my role as Family Breadwinner, I host and produce (as some of you may know) the Skeptoid podcast, with weekly episodes since 2006. I also have a plethora of side projects that I manage to work in somehow: writing this blog, obviously; my video podcast inFact with Brian Dunning; ongoing development on at least two television proposals with Ryan Johnson; miscellaneous projects like the weekly Skeptoid newsletter and the odd video like Here Be Dragons or Truth Hurts; and squeezing in Skeptics in the Pub or Skeptics in the Jeep as opportunity permits. I also play as much high-level volleyball as I can. But none of those activities get priority on my calendar; that honor goes to Being a Dad. All weekend long, and every morning at breakfast, and every evening from 5:00pm on, I’m a dad. Everything else that I do has to be worked around that.

I don’t have an army of clones like Mr. Atoss, and I do not believe Lisa could consider herself a podcast widow, given my top prioritization of family time. So you might fairly ask (and many of you often do): How the heck do I manage to do all of this?? Continue reading…

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Never More Than Three Possibilities…

by Brian Dunning, Jun 24 2010

This is a frame from Westall 66: A Suburban UFO Mystery which aired on the Australian Sci-Fi Channel on June 4th. I did not get to see the show, as it has not aired in the United States as of this writing; but my educated guess is that the filmmakers were attempting to illustrate the investigative process, by eliminating possibilities. (To learn about the 1966 Westall UFO, you can check out my Skeptoid episode about it.)

Their presentation purports that there are only three possibilities to explain the UFO sighting: Hoax or hysteria; experimental aircraft; or an object of extraterrestrial origin. Actually, that’s four possibilities, since a hoax and mass hysteria are two completely different things. Continue reading…

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Bill Nye Selling Out to The Man?

by Brian Dunning, Apr 22 2010

If you’re like me, and most other human beings, you’ve been a longtime fan of Bill Nye the Science Guy. With his wonderfully entertaining personality, he’s always been able to interest nearly anyone with some fascinating little snippet of science. His influence on the world has been an overwhelmingly positive one. He gets people excited about what’s real in our world, something that has trickle-down benefits through many aspects of our lives.

So it was with a bit of surprise that I first saw some notes on Twitter that he is now promoting a product based on, shall we say, “interesting” principles. He is the spokesman for Activeion, a cleaning product that is a spray bottle of ordinary water, with some impressive-looking electronics in the not-surprisingly-transparent spray top. It claims to “ionize” the water, thus endowing it with magically powerful cleaning ability. I saw one Twitter post that aptly described it as “homeopathy for dirt”. Bill hosts a promotional video on their site, and spews a stream of scientific-sounding words, most of which don’t mean a damned thing to anyone who understands chemistry, but that sound amazing and impressive to an innocent layperson — the oldest sales trick in the book for snake-oil products. Dazzle them with sciencey words! Here’s Activeion’s explanation of how it works: Continue reading…

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200 Skeptoids

by Brian Dunning, Apr 08 2010

This week marked the 200th episode of my podcast Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena.

Skeptoid has a long-standing tradition of making every 50th episode a lavish musical production. This tradition began last year at episode 150, which established the lavish musical employing a host of talented professionals; and crumbled all to hell this week at episode 200, when I applied my own unassisted imbecility toward the construction of a musical piece. The result is a parody of marketing efforts from purveyors of pseudoscience in the form of a song entitled Buy It!

–>> Click here to listen now (3 minutes) <<–

Being an experienced non-musician, and quite impressively talented on no musical instruments, I elected to make this piece an a cappella. This allowed me to leverage my deep gifts for not singing. Critics have already praised the performance as one of the great voices made for blogging. Continue reading…

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Scientific American, Please Stay on Track

by Brian Dunning, Mar 25 2010

I’ve been a Scientific American reader ever since I picked one up in my twenties at the home of my girlfriend’s parents (now my wife’s), as her dad was an exec at Hughes Space Systems and a top expert in photovoltaics. But I have to say, lately they’ve run a few opinion articles that I can’t completely agree with, focusing on energy. They seem to have adopted a clearly anti-nuclear bias (anyone who listens to my podcast knows that I’m a big nuclear fan), and are even critical of fusion research. The April 2010 issue features an article by Bill McKibben, scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and from what I can tell, something of a Luddite, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It smacks of a disturbing trend I see a lot of lately, where anticorporatism (which is as worthy a philosophy as any) is greenwashed with a supposedly environmental, scientific agenda (which is dishonest and does a disservice). We should not make science decisions that promote our favorite philosophies, we should make science decisions that best serve our planet and our people. They may coincide in many cases, but they don’t always. Here is a snip from a sidebar in McKibben’s article:

Job one, on almost anybody’s list, is conservation. The consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimated in 2008 that existing technologies could cut world energy demand 20 percent by 2020. For supply, it makes financial sense to generate power close to home. Most communities spend 10 percent of their money for fuel, and almost all of it disappears, off to Saudi Arabia or Exxon. Yet in 2008 the Institute for Local Self-Reliance showed that nearly half of all American States could meet their energy needs entirely within their borders, “and the vast majority could meet a significant percentage.” Wind turbines and rooftop solar could provide 81 percent of New York’s power, for instance, and almost one third of Ohio’s.

I’ll begin by stating that McKibben and I agree in principal almost entirely. We do need to completely replace our fossil fuel driven power grid, and as quickly as possible. With that said, I disagree with virtually every single point he makes. Let’s go one by one: Continue reading…

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Wrapping Up the Bigfoot Video

by Brian Dunning, Feb 18 2010

So I guess I can now reveal that no, I am not jackass enough to imagine that the “John E Walker” Bigfoot video is so compelling as to command the attention of SkepticBlog or the Skeptologists.

The video was made and sent to me back in January by John Rael of, and he asked me to write up something that looked like a critical review of it. He said it would be easy, since it’s such a lame video, and I suppose it was. It would have been easier if it had been more compelling. When a video is so dumb, it’s kind of hard to say anything intelligent about it.

I’m not exactly sure what role I played in his gag, but what the heck, it was a fun little lark. His reveal video is here.

But Google Alerts made this a little more fun. Turns out some Bigfoot site, the Bigfoot Lunch Club, picked up on my SkepticBlog analysis and found it lacking. The author’s comments are well worth a read: Continue reading…

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Promoting Science with Web Video

by Brian Dunning, Dec 31 2009

infact150As some of you may know, earlier this year I made three pilot episodes of a new web video series called inFact. The idea was to take the content from Skeptoid and repackage it for delivery to a much broader audience. If you’re wondering what the heck brand of paint I was sniffing to imagine I might have time in my schedule to make a weekly video series, you are on the right track. Of course I don’t have time, and don’t expect to find it any time soon. Video takes an order of magnitude more time and money to produce than an audio-only podcast like Skeptoid.

Therefore, the only way to produce inFact is to take time away from my regular professional career as a consulting computer scientist. This is the kind of career change that I’m looking to make anyway, to become of a full-time science journalist and skeptical outreach professional. But being the family breadwinner, I can only make such a change when there is sufficient money in the game. Continue reading…

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How to Become an Astronaut

by Brian Dunning, Dec 24 2009
Some of the female Cosmonauts. The bonehead in the white shirt is Sergei Korolev, who led the charge to discredit the women and end their program.

Some of the female Cosmonauts. The fat bonehead in the white shirt is Sergei Korolev, who led the charge to discredit the women and end their program.

So I figured out what I’m going to talk about in Berlin next week. At The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 this year in Las Vegas, I was lucky enough to give a 20-minute talk on the last day, and the topic was the Missing Cosmonauts. It’s been one of the most popular episodes of my Skeptoid podcast, and it concerns the urban legend that a number of Soviet Cosmonauts died in space, on flights that never made it into the history books, and who were subsequently erased from history. These tales are based almost entirely upon interpretations of some recordings made by two young Italian brothers who tuned their radio receivers in to pick up Soviet and American radio traffic during Cold War era spaceflights. Continue reading…

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Vote for Skeptoid in the Podcast Awards

by Brian Dunning, Nov 19 2009

I’m excited to announce that Skeptoid has made it to the final round of the annual Podcast Awards for 2010! The real voting starts now.

As you may know, Skeptoid has been my labor of love for over three years. Unlike most other nominated podcasts, I do it almost entirely on my own: I have no co-hosts, producers, company, or sponsors behind me, like most. So I make my pitch that (if you like Skeptoid) it deserves your vote through all my hard work, even if there are other shows also nominated that you also like. Continue reading…

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